Myth: Psoriasis is contagious.
Fact: Psoriasis is an autoimmune disease that affects the skin, often producing patches called plaques that can crack and bleed. “Because of this, many people see the lesions and assume it’s something they can catch,” says Bruce Bebo, MD, director of research for the National Psoriasis Foundation. But psoriasis is not a skin infection. “Psoriasis is not contagious,” Dr. Bebo says. “You cannot catch it from another person.”
Myth: Psoriasis is caused by poor hygiene.
Fact: Although it appears on the skin, psoriasis is a disease of the immune system and is not caused or exacerbated by poor personal hygiene. People with psoriasis have a genetic tendency to develop the condition. Stress, infection, skin injury, hormonal changes, and exposure to certain medications can then trigger a flare-up of psoriasis (most people with the disease experience cycles in which outbreaks are followed by periods when their skin is clear).
Myth: Psoriasis is just a cosmetic condition.
Fact: Psoriasis is a serious, chronic, lifelong autoimmune disease. Its symptoms emerge on the skin, and while the thick, flaky scales cause discomfort and embarrassment for some people with psoriasis, they can also cause physical pain and intense itching; 10 to 30 percent of psoriasis patients may also develop psoriatic arthritis. Like other forms of inflammatory arthritis, such as rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis causes joint pain, swelling, and stiffness.
Myth: Psoriasis is simple to diagnose.
Fact: “We suspect there are as many psoriatics alive who don’t know they have psoriasis as there are psoriatics who have been correctly diagnosed,” says Ed Dewke, who has psoriasis and runs an advocacy Web site called FlakeHQ. Dewke frequently fields questions from people who have been incorrectly diagnosed with dermatitis, eczema, or allergic rash.
Myth: Psoriasis cannot be treated.
Fact: While there is no cure for psoriasis, there are many ways to relieve its symptoms. “It’s true that a one-size-fits-all treatment approach doesn’t work—what works for one person may not work for the next,” says Bebo. “Today, however, a wide variety of treatments exist to help manage the symptoms of psoriasis. Partnering with a dermatologist is the best way to find a treatment that can help clear the skin.”
Myth: Misinformation about psoriasis is harmless.
Fact: Misconceptions about this condition can have serious consequences. “The perception that psoriasis is contagious leads to discrimination. Many people with psoriasis report discrimination in public places such as gyms, swimming pools, and hair and nail salons,” says Bebo. “The perception that psoriasis is not a serious condition leads some patients to not treat their disease. Failure to treat can lead to needless suffering from the disease itself and to an increased risk for other serious health conditions, such as heart attack, diabetes, depression, cancer, and obesity.” People whose psoriasis is undiagnosed or untreated may also be at higher risk of developing psoriatic arthritis—a chronic, painful, and disabling illness that often requires aggressive treatment.
Dewke also worries about ineffective and even dangerous drugs and therapies: “No treatment concocted yet works for everybody or works forever. That means that over a lifetime, most people with psoriasis will spend time, energy, and money hunting for something that does work. And sometimes desperation will drive us to try anything.”
For people who are already coping with that sort of desperation, myths, and misconceptions about psoriasis make their struggle even more challenging.
I, Amanda, have had this thing called psoriasis for as long as I can remember. The worst part is when someone thinks you will give them something. If they would just say, “What’s that on your skin?” But no, they would rather avoid you and talk, which makes things even harder on you because as much as we don’t want to care what others think, we do. My son is in school now; it is hard. I see bumps on his skin and I worry he will go through some of the things I have.
Knowledge is power! This goes for everyone! Don’t feel bad if you didn’t know of this illness before. Thank you for learning!